Technology—there are days when we can’t live with it. But neither can we live without it. For most of us, there are likely to be twinges of feelings of frustration and dread just hearing the word. Images of screens and messes of cables flash in my mind’s eye. Apps that don’t work correctly or viruses that collapse whole systems—when it works well, it is good. But when it doesn’t, either because of user error or system glitches, it can be very, very, bad.
We boast of vacations when we can “unplug”. We try to have limits on our screen time. But the reality is we really can’t separate ourselves from it in the 21st century. Everything we touch as been designed, engineered, produced, marketed, and sold to us through so many tech systems it would make our heads spin.
According to the Oxford Languages website, the word technology can be any application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes. There is no piece of our environment, our clothes, our medical care, food supply, transportation, communication devices or our lives in general that is not affected by scientific knowledge. Therefore, it could be argued, all fall into the wide net of technology. Today’s technology builds off yesterday’s scientific advances.
Let me just reflect the technological options to help correct my vision. I need transition lenses to drive down the road and to read a book, to watch TV and to cut vegetables. There is very little that I can do without my glasses. They are a technological necessity based on centuries of scientific advances.
Salvino D’Armati invented eyeglasses in the 13th century, about 400 years before Ben Franklin took the idea to the level of “bifocals”. Trifocals, transition lenses, contact lens, lens replacement surgery have just added to the ideas that came before. And in each instance, the advances have improved the ability of over 60% of the world’s population to see clearly. My life would be vastly different without this technology.
Best for You
I specifically say “different” and don’t just automatically assert that my life is “better” because I know that there are many people who live full, engaged lives with far less or no vision at all. Others have suggested over the years that there are better technologies to improve my eyesight. I wore contact lenses until my eyesight needed gradated levels of magnification. I tried the whole mono lens thing with one eye being corrected for near sightedness and the other for far. But my brain couldn’t adapt.
For me, wearing glasses is what best improves my experience and quality of life. When I don’t have my glasses on, like at the beach, I am acutely aware that my experience of the surroundings and people around me are different. My participation in the world feels muted. I am less sure of my steps. It is as if I am in a dangerous impressionist painting. Optical technology enables me to appreciate the impressionists at the art museum but enables me to live in the physical world around me.
But my glasses don’t fulfill all of my visual needs. In addition to my corrective lenses, binoculars enable me to experience great joy in bird watching. Technology has improved binoculars to be able to see further and to be lighter than my first pair from 40 years ago! I also have an additional set of eyeglasses so I can play the piano. It physically hurts my body to tilt my head to get the correct magnification from the transition lenses while staying seated on the piano bench with my hands on the keyboard. The separate glasses are the only way I can read the music—which I need to do because I was never good at “playing by ear” and the extent of memorized pieces is very limited.
Making Tech Choices
All of which is to say, I am able to choose the appropriate technological advances which I need in order for me to see my best life. I choose what is my “normal”. Transition Lenses, binoculars, extra glasses for the arms-length away music rack on the piano. The technology improves my eyesight for work and play, worship and adventure, communication and observation--each of these are a part of my everyday life.
There was another option that I decided years ago that I would not pursue-- laser surgery to more permanently correct my vision without the glasses. For me, the decision for this choice was made assessing the cost and risk of the surgery. But, when I get to the point of needing the similar surgery as cataracts develop and since there are no glasses which will correct for the clouded lens, the surgery will be the answer. I anticipate that the surgery will enable me to live most fully, and I will happily opt-in. There are different decisions for different stages of life.
For many other technologies, the decision is not as easy. So, what are the questions we need to ask? How and who decides for us what will improve our life making it “better”? Is this technology worth the risk or the expense? Does the technology affect the lives of others—either as a benefit or detriment? How do we know when enough is enough and what we are experiencing is “good enough”?
Reflecting and Learning
Throughout the coming weeks our bloggers will be reflecting on their own relationships with technology and how it impacts their lives. Most of us are in the camp of people who know that technology is all around us. We have experienced our own frustrations with how to use it and how to decide what to do about it.
I invite you tonight to reflect on all the different ways technology has enriched your life today. Pay attention to how you have benefitted from and been frustrated with the tech options around you. Consider what choices you have to engage technology to improve your life. What are the things that keep you from adopting every new technological option released today? Be grateful for the gifts that technology grants you along the way. May you see clearly, as you look at the complex relationship and the maze of choices and options present to us all.
In the meantime, join us for our 8th annual Symposium is coming up on September 30th-- (Pro) Longevity: the Convergence of Ethics, Tech and Aging. The lifespan of human beings has increased by 30-40 years in the past century. And much of that has happened because of technological advances. Predominantly, our lives are “better” than those who lived in the early 1900s. As we look at the rate of technological advancements happening today, how far should we go and how do we make those decisions?
Dr. Tracy Trothen will be the keynote speaker. As an ethicist, she is asking questions about what does having a “better” life mean. And who decides what is “better”? The registration page is at the bottom of this link for both virtual and in-person participation. Hope to see you there!